Women’s healthcare begins in adolescence and includes gynecological and obstetrical care, and breast health.
“Osteoporosis is a silent disease,” says Miala Oliger, a nurse practitioner with IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians Women’s Health. “If we aren’t screening you, the first signs of trouble are unfortunately fractures.”
It’s not a huge problem for most young people. Even after a child stops growing, they make more bone than they lose. Bone density typically peaks between the ages of 18 and 25, so the more bone mass you have at that time, the less chance you have of breaking a bone or getting osteoporosis.
But as you age, it’s another story. After you reach your peak bone mass, you gradually start to lose more bone than you gain. Bone loss usually increases in both men and women at middle age, particularly postmenopausal women, who can lose up to 20 percent or more of their bone density in the first five to seven years after menopause, when estrogen levels take a dive.
There is a lot you can do to protect your bones over the course of your lifetime, such as getting enough calcium and vitamin D, eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption.
Another preventative is a routine bone density scan.
Bone density tests are used to see how thick your bones are at any given time and to determine whether or not you have signs of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Both conditions lead to a weakening and thinning of the bones, which can cause them to break or fracture more easily. The method through which your bones are screened ― densitometry ― is a quick, inexpensive, low radiation and precise test to scan the bones and determine if there is cause for concern.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends that you start your screenings at age 65, or earlier if you are a postmenopausal woman at risk for fractures. These screenings should occur every two years. Incidents making the case for earlier screenings include a family history of osteoporosis, prior fractures or possibly medications you are taking.
Bone density screenings aren’t just for women. Oliger says men 70 years of age and older should also be screened, and earlier if they have the risk factors of family history of osteoporosis, prior fractures or medications that could weaken the bones.
Two years is the recommended time frame for both men and women because it typically takes two years for osteoporosis medications to cause a positive change in bone density, according to Oliger.
“Screening early helps with primary fracture prevention. Additionally, adequate intake of calcium and staying physically active help keep your bones strong and healthy,” Oliger says. “Bones are like muscles – you use them or you lose them.”
The NOF recommends 1200 mg of calcium daily. You can take supplements, but your body responds more positively if you get your vitamins from the food you eat. Try to consume milk, cheese, yogurt and other sources of calcium in your daily diet.
For a guide to calcium-rich foods, visit the NOF website at nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d.
For more information or to schedule your bone density scan, contact IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians.
IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians Densitometry at 2920 McIntire Drive is the only site in Indiana that has International Society of Clinical Densitometry facility accreditation for bone densitometry and vertebral fracture assessment (iscd.org).